The rock equivalent of a jungle drum, the sound of The Ramones needs no explanation. But a little context is useful in understanding why the band's arrival mattered so much. Two moments in Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia's documentary End Of The Century provide all the necessary information: a picture of Donny and Marie Osmond looking like they just wandered out of a Stepford lab, and a clip of Emerson Lake & Palmer performing an endless solo on some instrument that looks like a cross between a keyboard and a girder. Few eras needed two-minute songs about pinheads and glue-sniffing quite so desperately.
Born of boredom and broken homes, the individual Ramones blazed out of Queens in 1974. Misfits who sang about misfitdom, they wore matching jeans-and-leather-jacket outfits, and through persistence and unpracticed charm, they spread the punk-rock sound they'd invented by trimming the fat off of '60s garage rock and listening carefully to The Stooges, New York Dolls, and MC5. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy Ramone (and later, Marky, Richie, and C.J. Ramone) inspired countless bands, but never achieved much commercial success. The Ramones' 2002 induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame came sandwiched between the deaths of Joey and Dee Dee, the former from cancer and the latter from a drug overdose. For all the darkness and disappointment that dogged the group, no one else has produced a noise quite so life-affirming as the band's trademark "1-2-3-4" count-off and the guitar scrape it announced. But however united a front the self-declared "bruthas" presented, their personalities never matched as easily as their uniforms. Johnny's right-wing views clashed with Joey's leftism, and Dee Dee's heroin habit clashed with everything else. But the combination worked: Johnny brought the trademark sound, Dee Dee brought the downtown dirt, and Joey brought the freakish charisma at the group's heart.
Though clearly fans, Fields and Gramaglia show no compunctions about digging beneath the surface, revealing, for example, an episode in which Joey's girlfriend left him for his bandmate, or that Johnny and Joey barely spoke again after a disastrous stint recording (occasionally at gunpoint) for Phil Spector. As documentarians, the first-time directors never get beyond the talking-heads/archival-footage approach, but it works for them. They had the good fortune to interview both Joey and Dee Dee in time, and their brief clip of the band fighting about what song to play next would be reason enough for the faithful to turn out. As for the unfortunates who aren't already in love with The Ramones, End Of The Century should give them a better understanding of what they've been missing, and leave them wondering why they've missed out on it for so long.